We may have left Wednesday’s race with little to nothing in hand, but it definitely wasn’t for lack of effort or good teamwork. We entered the race again as an underdog, so it was not in our best interest to just wait until the final. That meant we would be on the offensive from the start. I tried hard to get into the break, but a couple factors were not in my favor. One, I felt quite bad in the start, so jumping to the moves was really hard. And two, a lot of guys wanted to be in the break, so I couldn’t cover every move. I was in a few moves that seemed good, but they were reeled back in by other attacks. Three guys finally went clear, so I was content to try and recover from my efforts.
The course for Fleche Wallone is typically not as tight and technical as Amstel, but it certainly had its moments on Wednesday. There was a 20-25km section of the race following our first ascent of the Mur de Huy (the finishing climb) where we were on single lane, farm roads. Cramming 200 guys onto these narrow roads raises the tension and stress levels immensely, and I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a big fan. Following this narrow section of roads, the course opened up a bit again, and it was time for us to go on the offensive. There was a lot of chatter in the radio from Kim (our director) and the other riders, but I was having a hard time understanding most of it, so I didn’t know exactly what the plan was. I did hear something about “Laurent and Matthew” though, so Laurent and I got ourselves to the front before we turned onto the next narrow section of road, which we were now familiar with because we had previewed it. I was still unsure of the exact plan, but I was guessing it involved attacking on the upcoming climb. I followed Laurent’s wheel, still unsure of the plan, but when his hand came back and counted down 3-2-1, I knew it was time go. Laurent jumped with me shortly behind. I actually was lagging behind because I couldn’t get into my big ring. I did eventually get into the big ring though, catch Laurent’s wheel, and then pull through while a few others from the field caught onto us.
Our group swelled to about 10 riders, and we quickly established a small gap of 10-15 seconds. We raced over the top of the climb and ripped down the descent, hoping to open our gap a bit more, but the field was chasing hard. I believe Movistar closed the gap to us pretty quickly knowing the danger of letting a group go and because they had missed it. We hit the next climb very shortly after our catch and more attacks went. I jumped onto the next attacks, following the wheels where I could. As we were about to crest the top, it was fairly strung out, and I was dangling off the front with some of the attackers. I was kind of in “no-man’s” land as I struggled to follow the wheel of Laurens Ten Dam toward the top, but I was still in front of the peleton. As luck would have it, Ten Dam and another guy stayed away, and the field sucked me up, killing my chance to be on the offensive. I was disappointed for sure, but I was also happy to be doing my job for the team and opening the race up.
The second and penultimate ascent of the Mur was not too long after my attack, and I expected I might struggle a bit to make it with the front guys because there is usually a flurry of attacks before the final 30km lap, but I did make it over the top safely. At that point, I hoped I could launch another attack on the false flat section following the Mur because guys are usually trying to recover and there is almost always crosswind, but I was unable to make my way back to the front of the group, so I had to just follow. Max made the move for me instead, but it was immediately shut down. BMC was racing full gas to make sure that Gilbert arrived to the bottom of the Mur with every chance possible to launch his signature attack in the last few hundred meters, but there were two more climbs on the final circuit that put a bit of sting in the legs before we would arrive to the Mur. I dangled on the back of the peleton over the top of each and was with the main group as we entered the bottom of the Mur, but I was content at that point to ride my own rhythm to the top, knowing the all too common mistake of guys going full gas at the bottom and blowing to bit on the final, steep slopes. In the end, the team came away with no real results, but we did race well as a team, so the morale was good.
So that brings us to our preview of Liege today. We rode the final ~100km of the course, which encompasses the majority of the climbing and the most critical points of the race. I’ve done this race twice before, passing the first critical point of the three climbs Wanne, Stockeu, and Haut-Levee each time, but then getting dropped at the second critical point of La Redoute both times. This year, I hope my experience and growth as a rider will help me pass both those critical points and get me deeper into the final of the race. This is undoubtedly one of the hardest races of the year, and one I really like, so each time I race it, I hope I can get closer and closer to being in the mix. We’ll see what happens Sunday!